Ishigaki Rin, Part Two: Authority and Brutality
(Click here for Part One)
Having graduated from primary school and found employment with the Industrial Bank of Japan in 1934, Ishigaki Rin devoted her free time to poetry, and by her late teens she had participated in the founding of a small poetry journal.
When the 1941 Imperial Proclamation of War on the United States of America and England was promulgated, Ishigaki Rin was 21. In an essay titled “On Life and Writing Poetry”（「詩を書くことと、生きること」）Ishigaki says that her poetry at the time was mostly personal, separated from both her work and society. Her experiences during WWII, however, would instill Ishigaki with a concern that would shape her poetry and writing. In the same essay, she recalls:
Even at age 20 I believed what I had been taught, that Japan was the Country of the Gods; a wondrous country ruled by a deity in human form; and a country that could not be defeated in war. Behind the victory reports that claimed “we’ve won! we’ve won!” the deaths of soldiers moved me not as tragic, but as brave—that’s how simple I was. [. . .]
When my younger brother received his draft card, I [bowed down with] both hands on the ground and said, “Congratulations.” That was the kind of mental state I was in.
[. . .] when I went with my younger brother to say goodbye to our aunt in the countryside before his departure to the front, my aunt told him, “Now when they say ‘suicide corps, step forth,’ don’t you dare answer, ‘yes sir!’ and rush forward.” I was startled by the queerness of her words. By the values of the time, it was an unpatriotic thing to say, and although I meant to ignore the comment, I believe the reason that my ears carefully put it aside, and continue to reproduce it for me even today, like some kind of hint, is because the words have the sound of something true. Sometimes I worry that I might be living under the power of some kind of authority or common sense that prevents me from holding onto those kinds of true words.
As the war dragged on and the Tokyo bombings worsened, Ishigaki came to envy Switzerland’s neutrality. By 1945, her views had changed significantly from just 4 years earlier; she had gained a new objectivity.
Ishigaki’s poetry often confronts authority and highlights the brutality that buttresses our communities and lurks in the shadows of “common sense.” The first two poems included below save their punches for the very end—the first closing with the terrifying echo of an unstoppable force, and the second with a triumphant declaration. The third poem is a revelatory cry of an entirely different kind.
(Translations by Zack Kaplan)
1. When the Avalanche Comes（「雪崩のとき」January 1951）
The people will say
That the time has come
They’ll say it was the seasons
That brought the avalanche
Back when we threw down our arms
That eternal oath, that stillness of heart
A modest people, huddled away for the winter
Apart from the power and struggles of the nations of the world
It wasn’t a lifestyle without want
But those times were good.
A silver world buried in peace
Yes, the word “peace”
Fell like powdered snow
Over Japan’s diminished lands
And piled deep
I mended torn socks
and knitted, stopping now and again
To gaze outside
And slip into a sigh of relief
Here there is no longer the bursting of bombs or the color of fire.
Sometimes I would think;
More than in a country fighting for supremacy
This life suits me better.
When it passed, it was in the blink of an eye.
Before even the winter’s firewood was gone
People began to stir
It’s time, they said,
We can’t fight the seasons.
The falling snows had already ceased.
Beneath the deep drifts
Small sprouts of ambition,
Deceit and desire lay hidden away
“This is what it’s all come to;
It can’t be helped.” The words
Started rolling from some far peak
Gathering other snows
It can’t be helped, It can’t be helped
It can’t be helped
The voices come tumbling down
Oh! That avalanche,
Their growing momentum
Steadily spreading out
I can hear it,
I can hear it.
2. Homeland（「祖国」September 1951）
This summer I went to Kamikochi.
The towering mountains were large
And I was small
The friends accompanying me were small, too
We were practically insignificant
Everyone was so small.
The road where people pass
Was like a single thread crawling across the mountain
Or, perhaps even thinner than a thread
Fading away here and there even as it trailed on
We climbed that road
At the peak
I was wonderfully large
Large as a mountain
And beneath the feet of my friends
Large mountains sprawled forth
The villages and towns were far off
Distant and small
The road to the peak is narrow
And wide enough for a person to pass, but if,
In the road we just came
Some authority placed a guard, and
“No Entry Beyond this Point”
If they planted a signpost…
Then from the road at the shadowy foot
Of the bamboo
People would no longer be able to ascend even a single step.
The people… In the narrow space beneath the mountain
Would surely huddle face to face
Their bodies and spirits would be impoverished
The wide sky
And life with a view would be forgotten
Surely they would become base and unhappy.
The flower patch at the summit
Was capped by clouds and mist And there were birds
It was a quiet and beautiful place
That if left unvisited by people
Seemed as though it would remain completely abandoned.
Who would visit if not people!
If those who live here don’t visit…
When I looked back at the road
I was joyous that there was no signpost
There’s no reason such a signpost would be planted on a mountain road.
At the peak of the mountain
I screamed aloud for no reason—
If anyone should ever plant such a sign
Let me pluck it from the earth
No matter what Let me pluck it from the earth.
3. In this World（「この世の中にある」）
The only knot in the world
Beyond that horizon
One and only knot
I was born
To untie it.
I’m rushing toward that horizon.
Who would know?
In the brief moment before a million people notice
I’ll surely succeed
—Like a shooting star—
From there, I am a fluttering butterfly
A light cloud, A spring overflowing endlessly
The blowing wind
Oh, from there the sea, the mountains, the sky—
And again, that horizon
Though I fly, though I fly, though I fly—